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Politics & Government

SU Newhouse Professor "Disheartened" by Misleading Campaign Ads

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A Syracuse University communications law professor says a wrongly attributed quote in a campaign mailer targeting state senate candidate Bob Antonacci is disappointing even in a time of ugly rhetoric.  The ad from the state democratic committee attributes the quote to Antonacci from an Auburn Citizen story. 

In fact, Syracuse.com found it was actually a quote from former candidate Rick Guy.  Professor Roy Gutterman explains the problem:

“If they have a campaign document put out by the opposition that articulates a difference in political opinion, then they should show their source,” Gutterman said. “But to say this is something that we think he might say, we think this is in-line with his politics, that’s just too speculative and misleading.”       

A democratic committee spokesperson told Syracuse.com it would be different if the quote misstated Antonacci’s position, rather than misquoting him.  Still, Gutterman doesn’t think this rises to the level of defamation.

“We sort of expect a degree of hyperbole, exaggeration, even a twisting of the truth with campaign ads,” Gutterman said. “There’s a giant leap to be made of something that’s misleading to something that’s outright defamatory to harm somebody’s reputation.”

Gutterman says burden of proof for candidates to prove defamation or libel in political speech is a lot higher.  He credits reporters for fact-checking campaign ads, even while he wonders how effective they are.

“We’re really looking at ads that are targeting a small sliver of the independent voter population, whatever that is,” Gutterman said. “I think these candidates and these campaigns are trying to get anybody’s attention, and I don’t know if these types of negative ads really do work, other than energizing the base.”

Gutterman says most voters have probably already chosen a side, so it’s hard to believe anyone would be swayed by an inflammatory ad.